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Mens Basketball vs. Harvard Credit: Ilana Wurman , Ilana Wurman, Ilana Wurman

The play started with a turnover.

Before the Palestra crowd knew it, freshman forward Mike Auger was streaking down the court, eventually finishing the breakaway with an emphatic one-handed jam. The Red and Blue faithful went crazy. Penn — after trailing by as many as 17 points — was within just two points of Lafayette with under ten minutes remaining.

That Nov. 22 game was just the third of Auger’s career, but the powerfully built Boston native made it clear that he was already a force to be reckoned with. The emphatic dunk accounted for two of Auger’s team-high 18 points, notched along with a game-high nine rebounds in only 14 minutes of playing time off the bench.

The game was not entirely full of positives for Auger. He suffered a foot injury in the contest, a frustrating setback that sidelined him for the next six games. However, upon his return on Dec. 30 against La Salle, Auger picked up right where he left off, notching nine points on perfect 4-for-4 shooting.

“He didn’t allow the injury to be a setback mentally,” coach Jerome Allen said of Auger’s ability to stay fresh despite an extended absence. “Whatever the trainers allowed him to do, he did it to the utmost.”

Despite averaging just 20.8 minutes per game — six Quakers’ players have higher average playing time — Auger has been able to make the most of his time on the floor. Featuring a relatively modest six-foot-seven frame, the freshman is second on the team — behind only junior center Darien Nelson-Henry – with 5.3 rebounds per game.

“It’s just always how I’ve played,” Auger said of his remarkable efficiency. “A lot of the times when I come into the game, we’ve needed a little bit of an energy boost. I just try to bring that energy as much as I can.”

“He really leaves it on the floor,” Allen agreed. “It’s just a part of who he is. Very rarely do we run plays for him, but he always finds a way to be a part of the action. It’s really something that we desperately need.”

Auger attributes his breakout success to the collective support and guidance of the team as a whole.

“Tony [Hicks], Darien, Greg [Louis] ... I can’t key in on just one [positive influence],” he said. “We have a great staff and a great group of guys.”

Despite Auger’s efforts, the Quakers faded late in that November game against Lafayette. The 83-77 loss was emblematic of a season that has been filled with its fair share of ups and downs.

But, much like Auger’s slam was a glimmer of hope in an otherwise forgettable game, the play of Auger — along with the breakout success of fellow freshman Antonio Woods — has provided a bright ray of optimism in what has been an otherwise subpar season for Penn.

“I’m really excited,” Allen said of the program’s future. “We still have everything in front of us. I’ve been really impressed with [Auger’s] poise, his pace and his understanding of the game.”

As for Auger, he has some pretty lofty goals for the years to come.

“Obviously I want to win an Ivy championship, that’s always the goal,” he said. “I know this program has so much history and so much culture.

“There’s a fan base just waiting for a team they can jump on board with.”

So, perhaps the roar in the crowd on that November night as Auger soared high above the rim was more than just a brief moment of optimism and joy.

If Auger has it his way, it will have simply been a sign of things to come.

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